Featuring the voices of Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, and Danielle Darrieux. In French, Farsi, and German with English subtitles. Rating not available. Opens Friday, January 11, at the Cinemark Tinseltown
Adapted by Marjane Satrapi and French collaborator Vincent Paronnaud from the former’s graphic novels of the same name, Persepolis is a beautifully crafted look at Iran’s recent roller-coaster ride as seen from a child’s point of view.
Young Marjane, initially voiced by Gabrielle Lopes Benites, is the spunky only child of a liberal Tehran couple (Catherine Deneuve and Simon Abkarian) who are happy to see the Shah’s repressive regime fall in the revolution of 1978-79. They shouldn’t be: things soon get way worse, with fundamentalists empowering the worst tendencies, and the worst people, in the neighbourhood.
Former anti-Shah activists go into hiding because the revolutionaries prove to be less than friendly to idealists of all stripes. It’s a topsy-turvy world in which a janitor is put in charge of a hospital, serving booze is a hanging offence, and police feel free to sexually humiliate women who aren’t covered from head to foot.
In this climate, the parents send away their growing daughter, now voiced by Chiara Mastroianni. She lands in 1980s Vienna, a place with its own weird cultural mash-ups, as she discovers in a French-speaking school full of angry middle-class misfits whose self-dramatized problems seem petty to a girl worried about the tragedy back home.
Meanwhile, the Ayatollah Khomeini’s crowd—now obsessed with war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq—is busy sweeping away the very traditions it pretends to enshrine, as represented by Marjane’s doting grandmother (golden-
era great Danielle Darrieux). But, really, shouldn’t she just be allowed to think about boys and music?
Like Satrapi’s books, the film sticks mostly to hand-drawn black-and-white images that are jarringly modern, even if they are sometimes as delicate as Persian miniatures. The winner of the jury prize at last year’s Cannes film festival, this movie is a tribute to Satrapi’s adopted home and makes English speakers share just a little of the artist’s sense of dislocation. Persepolis, more than anything, is a gentle testament to the anxious teenager still within us all.